By Thomas Gerbasi
John Scully loves boxing. He always has, at least since he read about Muhammad Ali as a teenager and then went about emulating “The Greatest.”
So over the last three-plus decades, the 51-year-old has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the sport, but he’s still here, a little over a week away from heading from Montreal to Stockton to continue assisting Marc Ramsay in getting IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev ready for battle against Radivoje Kalajdzic on May 4.
Yet boxing is no mere job for Scully, a decorated amateur who compiled a 38-11 pro record before moving into the trainer’s role. And if his training gigs disappeared tomorrow, he would likely still be posting on social media, raging against the sport’s injustices while giving his two cents on everything else having to do with life in and out of the ring.
These days, though, there aren’t hourly training camp reports or daily takes on the latest mess in the heavyweight division. Instead, Scully is posting about his true labor of love: helping his fellow fighters.
On May 19, Scully is teaming up with Ring 10 for the Run with the Champs event in the Bronx, one expected to see the likes of Mark Breland, Dennis Milton, Iran Barkley and Junior Jones in attendance. It’s a chance for fans to meet their heroes and for the fighters to have the opportunity to get together and trade war stories, all while raising money for boxers that have fallen on hard times. And there are more of those than you may believe are out there, something that shocked Scully when he first started seeing the reality of life after boxing.
“Coming up as a kid in boxing, I thought that all boxers made out good when their career was over,” Scully said. “You see them at the store or somewhere, and you go, ‘There’s the champ, he’s doing great.’ But of course I read about Joe Louis and I read Sugar Ray Robinson’s autobiography and even Ali for a while, and it’s crazy. And then, on an even deeper level, in Hartford I saw guys that I used to spar with and look up to and I see them in the 90s, after their careers were over, and I see some of them have no money. They’re completely broke and it just blew my mind. Over the years, I ran into some of these guys and I can add two plus two and I figure out that these guys aren’t doing very well.”
It was a brutal realization for Scully, finding out the reality that in boxing, it’s been said that five percent of the fighters make 95 percent of the money, and for those 95 percent, there isn’t necessarily a happy ending after the final bell sounds. Scully never got to wear a world championship belt as a pro (he did fight Henry Maske for the IBF light heavyweight crown in 1996), but he is one of the sport’s post-retirement success stories. And knowing that there were fighters that weren’t able to say the same thing ate at him.
So he decided to do something about it.
“I sat back one day, I looked at my phone and I was scrolling down and looking for a particular name and I realized that all I was doing was passing boxers,” Scully recalled. “My phone is filled with boxers’ phone numbers and I thought that we could do something here. There’s got to be something that all these connections can be a benefit somehow. From there, I started putting the amateur boxing reunions together.”
Open to anyone who had at least one amateur fight, Scully’s reunions brought together some of the greats along with folks who just stepped into the ring a handful of times, and what they all realized is that there is a bond among boxers that is hard to describe, but evident to all involved. And Scully did whatever necessary to make sure that the boxers that wanted to show up were able to.
“There was a guy, he wanted to come to the reunion but he couldn’t afford the hotel,” Scully said. “This guy was a big-time fighter at one time and he couldn’t afford a hotel. And I hooked him up with an Airbnb for only $40 a night, where normally it would have cost $150, so he was able to come.”
From there, Scully upped the ante, digging into his own archives to find items he could sell to raise money for his peers.
“I have a lot of memorabilia and things I’ve saved over the years, so when I found out that Wilfred Benitez was in bad shape, I had a glove sitting there in my closet,” he said. “I thought, I know all these guys, I’m gonna have all these guys sign this glove and then I’m gonna auction it off. Boxing fans are gonna love this. The guys I know personally that I could have sign stuff, people would kill to have their autograph and I can get 20 of them. And that’s what I did.”
The glove brought in $1900, Scully donated that money, and he hasn’t slowed down since. And while names like former champions like Benitez and McClellan are the ones that people gravitate to because they know their tragic tales, there are plenty of stories that Scully won’t reveal because, as a former boxer, he knows how proud those who step between the ropes can be. And he will never betray that trust.
“They trust me, and I’ll tell you what, to be honest, I publicize Wilfred and Gerald because a) it will help get more, but also b) because everybody already knows about them,” he said. “I’m not exposing anything that people don't already know. But I’ve helped guys who I would never reveal. There are guys that I’ve helped, world champions that people would have no idea that they’re not doing that well, and I wouldn’t do that because it’s not public knowledge yet. So I do it secretly. And people on my Facebook page understand. I’ll say, okay, listen, I’m selling this glove, this is for Wilfred Benitez. But then I might sell something else but I’ll say this is for an unnamed guy – just trust me. He’s somebody you know, and he needs it. And so far people have trusted me enough to accept that.”
Seeing what boxing did to Benitez, McClellan and so many other fighters can be enough to sour anyone on this sport. But Scully still loves boxing. And when you hear him explain why he does, it’s clear that he always will.
“It’s like all aspects of life,” Scully said. “There’s more good than bad. And I only surround myself with the good, for the most part. It’s like when people think of high school, and everybody at my age always goes, ‘Man, I’d love to go back to high school, that would be so cool.’ And I say, you know what, you really wouldn’t, because you’d get there and you’d be bored out of your mind looking at the clock all day. All you remember years later are the good parts. You’re not thinking of the miserable part. If you went back for one day, you’d be like, ‘Okay, I’ve had enough.’ So I’m lucky where I can just allow myself to be involved with the good.
“Of course, people might not think that being involved with raising money for guys who really need it is the good, but in my eyes it is because I’m helping guys who helped me love boxing,” he continues, then telling a story to illustrate his point.
“When I was a kid, I loved Benitez, he was unbelievable. And I remember reading a story of how they brought him to Teddy Brenner’s office in 1977 and it’s probably a made up story, but Teddy Brenner said while he was there, all of a sudden Benitez just reached out and caught a fly with his bare hand. (Laughs) I’m sure it wasn’t even true, but that’s the kind of stuff I remember reading about Wilfred. The next thing I know, I’m sitting in his house, he’s holding my hand, and I’m like, I gotta get this guy some help. So I only surround myself with the good aspects of boxing and, for me, that’s a good aspect, helping a guy who made me love boxing in the first place.”
Run with the Champs takes place at Villa Maria Academy on 3335 Country Club Road in the Bronx, NY on Sunday, May 19. For more information, contact Mike Bernard at [email protected].
For more information on Ring 10, visit https://ring10.org/